The thyroid gland is important for normal growth, brain development, and many other body functions.
Hypothyroidism: Someone with hypothyroidism has an underactive thyroid gland. This problem can be present from birth – in which case it is called congenital hypothyroidism – or can be acquired later in life for a variety of reasons. Hypothyroidism is treated with levothyroxine, a medication that is given daily to replace the missing thyroid hormone. Children with hypothyroidism who do not receive this treatment can have permanent problems with their growth and brain function. Proper treatment, which involves frequent blood tests and levothyroxine dose adjustments throughout childhood and adolescence, allows for excellent health.
Hyperthyroidism: Someone with hyperthyroidism has an overactive thyroid gland, which can cause symptoms such as weight loss, anxiety, heart palpitations, heat intolerance, trouble concentrating, insomnia, tremor, and diarrhea. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children and adolescents is Graves’ disease – an “autoimmune” condition in which the immune system makes antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to be overactive. Treatment of Graves’ disease involves an oral medication and may also require intervention by a surgeon (to remove the thyroid gland) or nuclear medicine (to destroy thyroid tissue using radioactive iodine). Graves’ disease requires close monitoring by an endocrinologist.